Unemployed pleading with lawmakers to fix broken system

Posted at 4:03 PM, Jan 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-27 19:37:04-05

Unemployed residents testified before a State Senate committee Wednesday, telling them how the broken Wisconsin unemployment system has left them scrambling to get by for nearly a year.

"I am so frustrated I cannot sleep," said Catherine Hammond.

"I have gone through a nightmare," said Art Valero.

In a Senate Committee on Economic and Workforce Development hearing, the head of the Department of Workforce Development continued to blame the unemployment problems on an antiquated technology system, that dates back into the 1970s.

"Dealing with complex eligibility laws and outdated IT systems has led to substantial challenges over the past 10 months," said DWD Secretary-designee Amy Pechacek.

Gov. Tony Evers called for a special session to work on the outdated system last week. Lawmakers gaveled in and out without formally considering proposals.

Republicans said the governor has the power to pay to fix the broken system himself, calling the special session "political grandstanding."

"The computer system plays a role," said labor attorney Victor Forberger. "If you're driving a '72 Buick you're going to have some maintenance issues. But it's also how the department was changed over several years."

Forberger also testified at Wednesday's hearing, asking lawmakers to make changes to the unemployment law. Among his proposals was eliminating the law disqualifying Social Security Disability recipients from receiving unemployment benefits.

He also asked them to temporarily waive some eligibility requirements that he says unnecessarily send people into adjudication.

"There are errors all over the place," he said. "Those errors now have to be corrected and that's leading to more administrative sludge."

Pechacek told lawmakers they were already moving forward with changes to the complicated application process, as well as implementing document download and instant messaging features to streamline some of the processes.

"We've got some short term, what I would call band-aid fixes on the current system that we can implement, but none of that replaces the need for a full-blown modern overhaul," Pechacek said.

Forberger said DWD leadership's head is in the right place, but they need to be thoughtful while implementing these systems not to create more hurdles to the unemployment system.

Because those who were left waiting have reached their boiling points.

"Wisconsin is better than this," said unemployed resident Saundra Mendini. "It's a shame when I'm hearing other states ... they got their act together. People are getting paid, but not Wisconsin."

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